Excerpt: The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter

ISBN # here

CHAPTER ONE:  MAIL ORDER GERBILS
One cloudy Monday afternoon, I came home and found my family gathered in the garage.  I’d been pedaling my bike around the neighborhood after school, pretending that the bike was a horse I was racing around the cul-de-sacs.  I’d ridden so hard through the soupy Virginia heat that my short bangs were glued to my forehead and my knobby knees were shaking as I dismounted the bike and walked it up the driveway. 
My brother Donald raced outside when he saw me.  Donald was eight years old, skinny and quick and so blond that he looked bald in most lights.  It didn't help his looks any that Mom buzzed his hair like a Marine's, which only called attention to the fact that Donald's head was so long and narrow that everyone, even our parents, called him Picklehead.
“Dad got boxes from Air Express,” Donald said.  “Now he’s opening them!”
I dropped my books and lunchbox down on the cement floor of the garage and went to stand between Donald and my mother, who carried my little sister Gail.  We stood close together in the dim oily cave of the garage and watched in silence while my father -- a methodical man who never went anywhere without a list, a map, and a pocketknife -- unpacked the boxes with his usual precision. 
As Dad slid out the contents of that first box with the help of a metal ruler, I saw that it was a plastic cage with a wire top.  The wire top had two dips in it, one for a water bottle and the other for food.  Dad held the cage high up like a holy chalice to admire its contents.  Through the opaque bottom of the cage, I could make out two dark, round shadows that skittered this way and that.  My mouth went dry with excitement.
“What do you think of them, Sally?” Dad asked.
 Mom wrinkled her nose.   My mother was 32 years old that summer, but she often dressed in shorts that showed off her figure and tied bright scarves over her short brown curls.  She was girlish and lovely, like Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet, but without the scary violet eyes.  “They look like rats to me,” she said.  “Look at those awful tails.”
“What are they, Dad?” Donald asked.
“Gerbils.”
There were four cages in all, in four separate Air Express boxes.  The process of meticulously unpacking the boxes and examining their contents took Dad so long that, by the time he’d lined the cages up on the metal shelves installed along the back wall of the garage, Donald and I were giving each other Indian burns and Mom was on her third cigarette.
At last, though, the gerbil cages were on the shelves and I was able to stand on tiptoe to peer into them.  Each plastic bin held a pair of palm-sized animals with long tails.  The tails had tiny black tufts at the ends, like miniature lion tails.  The gerbils were a warm sand color with creamy underbellies and shiny black eyes; their eyes looked just like the buttons our Grandmother Keach sewed onto sock monkeys for her gift shop in Maine.  I wanted to put a gerbil on my bed and kiss it.
“Where did you get them?” I asked.
Dad handed me a catalog from inside one of the boxes.  It was Creative Playthings, a toy catalog that Donald and I routinely fought over until we reduced it to confetti, even though we knew that Dad would never buy us anything from a catalog except school clothes from Sears.  The gerbils were advertised in the “Discovering Nature” section for $5.50 a pair, a fortune. 
Donald yanked the catalog out of my hands and asked Dad why he didn’t get the Tom Thumb greenhouse or the egg incubator, too.  I pushed my face close to the plastic side of one cage.  The gerbils inside it surprised me by bounding around on their hind legs like tiny, caffeinated  kangaroos. 
“Can I hold one?” I asked, tugging on the pocket of Dad’s khaki uniform pants.  He had taken off his brass-buttoned Navy shirt with the bars and stripes, but the pants were still cinched tight around his white undershirt with a shiny black belt that matched his shiny black shoes.  You could see your face in those shoes.
“Not yet,” he said.  “Let them get used to us.”
We left the gerbils and went inside to have supper and watch TV, all of us oblivious to the fact that Dad, with one whimsical purchase from a toy catalog, had charted a new course for our family’s future.

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photos from the past

Photos from "How to Raise and Train Pet Gerbils" written by Holly's father

Holly with a Gerbil Even girls like gerbils!

Holly's brother with a gerbil Donald holding gerbils.

easy experiments for science classes Children's toys can easily become gerbil's playthings. Here the author's family is putting on a gerbil circus.

To create the circus, all you need is a large box, tow or more gerbils, some toys and objects that gerbils appreciate, and an appreciative audience. Almost any cardboard or wood box will do, or you can use a metal tub, a plastic sand box, or a rigid wading pool.